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Kenneth E. DeShetler (1928-2017): Insurance executive was also judge, and Medical College of Ohio trustee

Kenneth E. DeShetler, a retired insurance company executive who was a trustee of the former Medical College Ohio, state insurance commissioner, and a presiding judge of Toledo Municipal Court, died April 10 in Naples, Fla. He was 88.

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DeShetler

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He died after a brief bout of pancreatic cancer, which presented no symptoms until three weeks before his death, his daughter Laura Newsom said.

She remembered sitting beside him in Toledo Municipal Court as a child and being impressed by the job’s seriousness.

“I understood the power of that job,” she said. “He was always a fair arbiter of the law.”

Mr. DeShetler, who maintained homes in Dublin, Ohio, and Naples, Fla., resigned from the MCO board in early 1994, because he’d moved to Florida. He was appointed in 1988 to a nine-year term as an MCO trustee by then-Gov. Richard Celeste.

He was born Aug. 17, 1928, to Elsie and Leo DeShetler and grew up in East Toledo. He was a graduate of Waite High School and received a bachelor of business administration degree in economics from the University of Toledo. That education was partially funded through regular trips to East Toledo pool halls, a hobby he maintained all his life.

“They always had a pool table,” Mrs. Newsom said, and he enjoyed the people he met there. “He liked interesting characters from whatever walk of life.”

He married Elizabeth Brinton in August, 1953, and they later divorced. He received a law degree from Ohio State University and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1958.

An Air Force veteran, he was a staff sergeant and served in Germany.

His father’s business, DeShetler Heating, 505 Main St., doubled as his first law office. In 1961, he was named an assistant city law director for urban renewal by Toledo Law Director Louis Young. He was chief city prosecutor when, in 1965, he defeated Judge Clarence Smith, an appointee of then-Gov. James A. Rhodes, to complete the unexpired term on Toledo Municipal Court of Judge Robert Foster, who was elected to a newly created domestic relations judgeship.

An endorsed Democrat, Mr. DeShetler was elected to a full six-year term on the bench in 1967. He defended, in a speech, then-recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that called for police to read arrestees their rights and guaranteeing defendants the right to counsel.

“Individual rights and freedoms surrendered are not easily regained. ... So long as we have a Supreme Court, these rights will be protected,” Mr. DeShetler told the Toledo post of the American Legion, of which he’d been a member. “The court has made it necessary for police departments to do a thorough investigation job.”

In a speech to the Toledo Legal Aid Society in 1969, the judge said the group and the public defender program were needed to serve the least advantaged members of society, who were most likely to become victims of the judicial system.

“...The law must serve the poor too,” Mr. DeShetler said.

He was elected presiding judge in January, 1970. He was present at the birth of a pilot program to treat public alcoholism as a medical, rather than a criminal, problem. Those arrested repeatedly as drunk and disorderly or on other alcohol-related charges were to be evaluated by a physician and hospitalized if necessary.

Within weeks of the November, 1970, election of John J. Gilligan as Ohio governor, Mr. DeShetler was touted as a sure-fire addition to the incoming Democratic administration. The governor-elect in January, 1971, named Mr. DeShetler as director of the Ohio Department of Insurance because the judge had “the knowledge and the ability to make the department one that will be sensitive to the needs of all the people of Ohio and at the same time responsive to the expanding needs of the industry in the years ahead.”

In that role, he worked with James Lorimer, who was the vice-president for governmental affairs at Nationwide Insurance.

“He was somebody that Toledo should take great pride in,” Mr. Lorimer said. “He was a very gently spoken man, very intelligent. He was always looking for a way to laugh at the frailties of life.”

Mr. DeShetler during his tenure criticized health-insurance firms for not using their influence to keep hospital charges and doctor bills in check. He also found fault with public officials during testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting in Cleveland.

“Government at every level must share in the blame for the acute problems that face us in health-care delivery and cost,” Mr. DeShelter said. “Government has failed to recognize the needs of its people and when vested with authority to control has failed to control.”

Mr. DeShetler was a former officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and served on the Ohio Commission on Aging.

Governor Rhodes returned to office in January, 1976, defeating Governor Gilligan the previous November, and Mr. DeShetler left state government with the outgoing administration.

He returned to law practice afterward, based in Columbus, and was an adviser on insurance issues. He became vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs of Nationwide Insurance Companies in Columbus in June, 1976. He was named Nationwide’s vice president of corporate relations two years later.

Mr. DeShetler is survived by his wife, Susan, whom he married on October 11, 1986. Also surviving is his daughter, Laura Newsom; his son, Dana DeShetler, and two grandchildren.

In lieu of donations, the family encourages people to, among other activities, “hug your son and putter in the hardware store with him, buy a racehorse ... giggle under the covers, and dance in the streets with your wife.”

Staff writer Zack Lemon contributed to this report.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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